A Pair of Scorpions #2: Rituals

If you're in the market for a sleeper, you couldn't ask for better than 1977's Rituals.  It's an "in the woods" thriller that will probably never escape the comparisons to Deliverance, but it's really its own thing.  Five doctors, including Hal Holbrook and Scanners' Lawrence Dane, take their annual trip this year as a camping expedition, far from civilization, but apparently not far from... somebody.  It's tempting to say this isn't a slasher because it's too smart, with five protagonists using their wits to survive, as opposed to your standard pack of co-eds who don't even realize their numbers are steadily dropping until the final act.  And the conflict here is as much man against nature as it is man against psycho stalker.  But, at its core, I guess it is a well written, exceptionally acted slasher, along the lines of Just Before Dawn or The Final Terror.  I enjoy all three, each of which benefits greatly from some gorgeous natural backdrops; but this is definitely the most serious minded, mature entry of the pack.
Code Red's 2011 special edition DVD was Rituals' first respectable release on disc.  Before that, there were just fullscreen grey market junkers and Mill Creek discs that offered a heavily censored TV cut, missing over ten minutes of footage.  Eventually Scorpion gave Rituals its HD debut on blu in 2018, making the best of what they had to work with.
2011 US Code Red DVD top; 2018 US Scorpion BD bottom.
The case tells us Scorpion's blu is a "Brand New 2018 HD Scan Of The Best Film Elements Available."  And that's definitely the story here.  I remember Rituals being requested and shot down because proper elements for an HD transfer couldn't be found, and I think fans essentially talked Scorpion into it.  And the bottom line is: I'm glad they did.  This is a substantial improvement no matter how you cut it.  For starters, the Code Red DVD is slightly letterboxed to 1.82:1 (though labeled 1.78:1 on the back of the case), while the Scorpion BD is left open matte at 1.78:1, not just revealing the sliver of extra information along the top and bottom, but also pulls out a bit to reveal more along the sides.  More importantly, there's been substantial color correction.  Faded, almost monochrome images are brought back to vivid life, especially important in a film like this where the living natural environment surrounding the characters is a major story and thematic element.  And as far as detail, well, it's a little sharper.  Code Red and Scorpion were clearly working with worn prints, low on detail and rife with damage... though there's less of the latter on the blu, since Scorpion composited their transfer from several sources.  Note the giant black spot on the old man's head in the second set of shots, cleaned up on the blu.  Still, grain is sporadically represented at best and I'm sure we're missing out on a lot of potential.  But it's clearer and better defined than its SD predecessor.
2011 US Code Red DVD top; 2018 US Scorpion BD bottom.
Before I bounce away from PQ, I want to take particular look at the dark scenes (of which there are many), particularly the interiors in the final act.  It gets to the point where you can't make out what's happening on screen, and they even feel compelled to address it in the audio commentary.  The producer tries to assure them that it's alright, because it's supposed to be a dark and scary scene, but surely it's not supposed to look quite like this.  For the DVD, they lightened the scene to try make things more discernible, but the problem is, once blacks have been crushed, that information can't be brought back.  Raising the levels just makes the blacks gray, turning the scenes into noisy chaos.  And is the blu any better?  A bit.  They discard the artificial brightening, and the color correction makes the scenes look more authentic for sure.  It's still hard to see what's going on.  If they had the original negatives, I'm sure they could've pulled out a wealth of detail and the scene could look how it ideally always should've.  But as things are, this is probably the best it can look.  Just try to embrace the "it's supposed to be hard to see in the dark" attitude.

Both discs naturally provide just the original English mono track.  Bumped up to DTS-HD on the blu, it's actually a surprisingly clear track.  The quiet scenes are genuinely quiet and hiss free.  Scorpion has also added optional English subtitles, which the DVD lacked.
And extras?  Well, Code Red already covered the bases pretty well here.  There's the aforementioned audio commentary with producer and star Lawrence Dane, who's quite game and full of info.  He also provides a supplementary on-camera interview.  Co-star Robin Gammell also does an information to provide another perspective.  Besides that, there was the trailer and a bunch of bonus trailers.

Scorpion doesn't rock the boat much here.  They carry over everything from the DVD, updating the bonus trailers with their own.  The only thing they add is an alternate trailer for Rituals, under the title The Creeper.  You might wanna poke your head in on these trailers, since one makes the peculiar decision to set the whole affair to "The Teddy Bear's Picnic," adding some novel curiosity value to the proceedings.  The blu also includes a fold-out poster, slipcover and reversible artwork, plus, if you were one of the earliest to order from Ronin on first release, a limited edition magnet.
Rituals is a great little flick, and Scorpion's blu is a worthwhile upgrade from the DVD.  If the negatives are ever uncovered, I'd be delighted to double-dip; but I wouldn't hold my breath for that.  As things stand, this is the way to go.

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